India is among the 12 nations that will be the focus of a new multi-country initiative by the UN to end child marriage and to help protect the rights of child brides, whose number can reach one billion by 2030. ‘The UNFPA-UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage’ is part of a global effort to prevent girls from marrying too young and to support those already married as girls in 12 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East where child marriage rates are high.
The 12 countries that will be the focus of the initiative are Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Yemen and Zambia. The initiative gains significance since the UNICEF predicts that if the current trends in child marriages continue, the number of girls and women married as children will reach nearly one billion by 2030. “Choosing when and whom to marry is one of life’s most important decisions. Child marriage denies millions of girls this choice each year,” Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, Babatunde Osotimehin said.
He said as part of the global programme, UNFPA will work with governments of countries with a high prevalence of child marriage to uphold the rights of adolescent girls. The new global programme will focus on proven strategies, including increasing girls’ access to education and health care services, educating parents and communities on the dangers of child marriage, increasing economic support to families, and strengthening and enforcing laws that establish 18 as the minimum age of marriage.
The programme will also emphasise the importance of using robust data to inform policies related to adolescent girls. “The world has awakened to the damage child marriage causes to individual girls, to their future children, and to their societies,” UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said.
Lake added that the new programme will help drive action to reach the girls at greatest risk and help more girls and young women realise their right to dictate their own destinies. “This is critical now because if current trends continue, the number of girls and women married as children will reach nearly 1 billion by 2030 1 billion childhoods lost, 1 billion futures blighted,” he said.
The UN agencies said women and girls who are married as children are more likely to be out of school, suffer domestic violence, contract HIV/AIDS and die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Child marriage also hurts economies and leads to intergenerational cycles of poverty, they said.